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Monthly Archives: December 2013

All in the eyes: corneal reflections in photos can help solve crimes

The eyes are not just the mirror of the soul, they also mirror the world around us. Now, a UK team has found that today’s high-resolution digital images are now so detailed, they can enlarge the eyes in people’s photos and retrieve images of out-of-shot bystanders reflected on their corneas.Combine this with the fact human beings are very efficient at recognizing faces, even from poor quality images, and you have the makings of a rich forensic resource for solving crimes.

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Cholesterol levels linked to brain deposits that cause Alzheimer's

High good and low bad cholesterol are not just good for the heart but also the brain, suggests new research published in JAMA Neurology.Study leader Bruce Reed, a professor of neurology at the University of California (UC) Davis, and associate director of its Alzheimer’s Disease Center, says:”Our study shows that both higher levels of HDL – good – and lower levels of LDL – bad – cholesterol in the bloodstream are associated with lower levels of amyloid plaque deposits in the brain.

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Our food choices are influenced by social norms, study suggests

Social cues affect choices we make on a daily basis, from how we dress to what kind of car we drive. But now, research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that what other people eat influences our own food choices.Conducting a meta-analysis from 15 studies published in 11 different publications, researchers examined whether or not other peoples’ eating habits influenced food intake levels or food choices.

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Don't start 2014 hungover, or worse

The AMA has urged people to take it easy when celebrating the start of the New Year.AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, said that New Year’s Eve was a great time to relax and have fun with relatives and friends, but warned that partygoers should avoid making the start of 2014 memorable for all the wrong reasons.Dr Hambleton said all too often celebrations were marred by people getting hurt because they, and those around them, overindulged.

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World's shrinking groundwater 'needs better governance'

An eminent Australian water scientist has urged the world to take better care of its groundwater resources – or risk dangerous scarcities, economic impacts and potential conflicts in coming decades.Professor Craig Simmons, the Director of Australia’s National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NGCRT) says that governments around the world need to get behind the UNESCO plan to develop a Global Framework for Action on groundwater governance, due for release shortly.

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Genzyme receives Complete Response Letter from FDA on Lemtrada<sup>TM</sup> (alemtuzumab) application

Sanofi and its subsidiary Genzyme has announced that it has received a Complete Response Letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its supplemental Biologics License Application seeking approval of Lemtrada (alemtuzumab) for the treatment of relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis. A Complete Response Letter informs companies that an application is not ready for approval. FDA has taken the position that Genzyme has not submitted evidence from adequate and well-controlled studies that demonstrate the benefits of Lemtrada outweigh its serious adverse effects.

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Despite Health Law’s Protections, Many Consumers May Be 'Underinsured'

People with chronic conditions will be better protected from crippling medical bills starting in January as the health law’s coverage requirements and spending limits take effect. But a recent analysis by Avalere Health found that many may still find themselves “underinsured,” spending more than 10 percent of their income on medical care, not including premiums, even if they qualify for cost-sharing subsidies on the health insurance marketplaces.

“You have some great protections in place, but these out-of-pocket costs and how plans are structured are going to create some serious problems,” says Marc Boutin, executive vice president at the National Health Council, an advocacy group for people with chronic health conditions.

Potential trouble spots include prescription drugs; specialist care, including that provided by academic medical centers; and services such as physical therapy that typically require a course of treatment over weeks or months, say experts.

The health law prohibits insurers from turning down sick people for coverage and generally eliminates lifetime and annual dollar limits on benefits, including hospitalization and prescription drugs.

It also caps the amount people spend out-of-pocket in 2014 at $6,350 for individuals and $12,700 for families that buy a plan on the individual and small group markets, including the health insurance exchanges. People with incomes below 250 percent of the federal poverty level ($28,725 for an individual or $58,875 for a family of four in 2013) may qualify for cost-sharing subsidies on the marketplaces that reduce those caps as well as their deductibles and copayments.

More From This Series Insuring Your Health

The Avalere analysis found that many chronically ill people, especially those in Bronze or Silver plans that offer less generous coverage, will likely reach their out-of-pocket maximum every year.

John Earley worries he may be one of them. Earley, 60, has severe plaque psoriasis, a condition that causes painful, itchy red patches on his skin.

After he was diagnosed more than 30 years ago, topical creams and ultraviolet light treatments that slow the growth of skin cells worked for a while. But eventually their effectiveness waned. He finally found relief with Humira, a biologic drug that blocks the production of an immune system protein that causes inflammation. The twice monthly injections cost more than $2,ᎈ, but the Texas high-risk pool through which Earley and his wife are insured covers the drug with a $100 copayment. The drug’s manufacturer, AbbVie, covers all but $5 of that amount through its patient assistance program. Their insurance premium is $1,4Ȝ per month.

With the Texas high-risk pool set to close early next year, Earley, who works on contract as an architect in Arlington, is checking into plans on the health insurance marketplace. The plan with the best Humira coverage—a $150 copay per refill—is a gold plan with a $1,718 monthly premium for the two of them, says Earley. Plans with lower premiums would require Ȉ to 50 percent coinsurance for the drug, which is in a high-cost specialty tier.

“What I’m finding with the insurance policies that are available, it’s going to cost you either way,” says Earley.

The gold plan with the best Humira coverage would cost roughly a quarter of their income, says Earley, who is not eligible for tax credits to subsidize his premium costs.  But that may be their best option, even with financial assistance from the drug’s manufacturer, given the high drug coinsurance charges on the other plans.

Drug costs are perhaps the most often cited coverage concern for people with chronic conditions, but there are others, say experts.

Access to specialists and to academic medical centers with the necessary expertise can be problematic on the marketplaces, where many insurers have opted for a narrow network of doctors and hospitals in order to keep a lid on premiums. A recent McKinsey & Co. study found that 70 percent of the 120 plans it examined offered narrow hospital networks that excluded at least 30 percent of an area’s biggest hospitals. Academic medical centers were generally part of broader plans whose premiums were 10 percent higher than average.

For people who need specialist care, narrow networks can be problematic since the law’s limits on what a patient spends out-of-pocket only apply to in-network care. Dermatologists trained in handling severe psoriasis may not be in network, nor the academic medical centers that some people need for treatment, says Leah Howard, director of government relations and advocacy at the National Psoriasis Foundation.

On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes the out-of-pocket costs for effective treatments such as phototherapy can deter patients who would have to make  a copayment for perhaps dozens of sessions. 

“We’ve seen people who would prefer to be on phototherapy, but can’t afford $500 in copays over eight weeks, so they end up stepping up to a systemic treatment,” says Howard.

In addition, although dollar limits on benefits aren’t allowed, plans typically limit the number of sessions for certain treatments such as physical therapy.

Because of the rocky rollout of the exchange websites in many states, many consumers have found it difficult to get basic information about premiums and plan deductibles, say experts. Many don’t know which providers are in the plan networks or what benefits the plans cover.

“As more and more people become covered and as people start to use their plans, we’ll see if the cost protections in the plans are sufficient, and directed toward getting people the care they need,” says Sara Collins, a vice president at the Commonwealth Fund.

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Lactation consultant visits spur breastfeeding among women who usually resist it

In two separate clinical trials, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have found that periodic meetings with a lactation consultant encourages women traditionally resistant to breastfeeding to do so, at least for a few months – long enough for mother and child to gain health benefits. The results of the trials were published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

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Inadequate pregnancy weight gain a risk factor for infant mortality

Women who do not gain enough weight during pregnancy are at increased risk of losing their baby in its first year of life, according to a new study by researchers in the University of Maryland School of Public Health (UMD SPH). This study examined the relationship between gestational weight gain, mothers’ body mass index (BMI) before and during pregnancy, and infant mortality rates.

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A new role for milk: Delivering polyphenols with anti-cancer activity

Polyphenols found in tea manifest anti-cancer effects but their use is limited by poor bioavailability and disagreeable taste. A new study in the Journal of Dairy Science® finds that when epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), the major extractable polyphenol in green tea and the most biologically active, when diluted in skim milk or other milk complexes remains bioactive and continues to reduce colon cancer cell proliferation in culture at concentrations higher than 0.03 mg of EGCG/mL.

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